Is your dog afraid of the trash truck? You aren’t alone! Many dogs have big feelings about the weekly trash truck. Even calm dogs can be frazzled by the size and loud banging and clanging of trash trucks coming down the street. Some dogs are afraid and want to get away from the truck, while other dogs try to lunge at the truck out of a (dog logic) attempt to keep it away from them.
Dogs don’t care about the trash truck because it’s there to collect trash or recycling; most dogs fear a trash truck because of the size and sound. Many dogs who have issues with the trash truck may have similar responses to other large vehicles like busses and construction equipment. However, dog guardians often notice their dog’s issues with large vehicles with the trash truck first because of its weekly schedule and proximity to the house. Also, trash trucks may seem more unpredictable or concerning to dogs because of the frequency they start and stop. As a result, these trucks spend more time near your home and near your dog as opposed to just quickly driving past. For dogs who are uncomfortable or fearful about the trash truck, the truck’s sights and sounds will generally elicit a fight or flight response, which may translate into various fear-based unwanted behaviors. These include barking, lunging, attempting to chase after the truck, trying to hide behind you, wanting to run away from the truck or towards the truck.
It can feel scary, stressful or overwhelming to have a dog that is having a big reaction about something that to you seems very normal. Remember that although you understand what the trash truck is and why it’s on your street, it’s an upsetting situation for your dog.
You don’t ever want to punish your dog for how they are responding to the truck. If your dog is barking, lunging, or trying to escape the trash truck, they are having a very natural reaction. Even if your dog seems brave/bold and wanting to take on the trash truck, punishing your dog won’t do anything to change the underlying fear/discomfort and may only exacerbate the behavior. What your dog is telling you by his or her response to the truck is that it’s too close, and remaining calm is too hard. This is useful information for you as you work to support your dog with addressing their trash truck fears.
The key to helping your dog not react to the trash truck driving down your street every week involves counter conditioning or helping to shift your dog’s emotional response to the stimulus, in this case, the trash truck. Achieving this is a slow process that requires, first and foremost, meeting your dog where they are at, being realistic about comfort levels, and allowing there to be enough distance between your dog and the truck.
The training goal will be to work at your dog’s pace to make positive associations with the truck. Start at a distance where your dog isn’t upset or reacting to the sights/sounds of the truck, even if that means when you begin training, your dog needs to be multiple blocks away. To start working on your dog’s trash truck fears/reactions, always strive to stay at a distance your dog is comfortable and continue to praise and treat your dog for the calm behavior, and anytime they look at the truck. When your dog is reacting, they are over the threshold and cannot learn/focus because they will be too overwhelmed, so it’s essential to stay at a distance where your dog is comfortable. We want this to be an enjoyable and upbeat experience for our dog. Very quickly, your dog will start to make the connection that looking at the truck at a safe distance makes yummy treats appear. As your dog gains confidence, you can begin to decrease the distance between your dog and the truck.
For example, when you start, maybe your dog needs to be three blocks away to handle the sight/sounds of the trash truck to be able to take treats calmly, and the next week your dog might be able to be comfortable being two and a half blocks away and still be able to look at the truck and eat treats. By not pushing your dog to get closer to the truck than they are comfortable with, you’ll support your dog by continuing to make positive associations with the truck and reinforcing that the presence of the truck means praise and yummy treats will appear. Continue this slow pace weekly until, eventually, you can walk your dog past the truck without incident.
Remember, this is a prolonged process and may take months of consistent work. If at any point your dog gets scared/spooked by the truck and reacts, it just means they were a little bit over the threshold, and we need to slow down and increase the distance between our dog and the truck. For the rest of that training session, and in the next session, start at a further distance where you know your dog will be successful and comfortable with being able to see the truck and then look to you for treats! The convenient thing about trash trucks is they appear consistently on the same day and generally at the same time so you can plan your walks and training sessions to help.
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